I was hiding behind a tree. Literally, amid a cluster of geriatric trees and one adolescent cedar, I pressed my chest and my legs against this tree, to hide.
The rules were simple: I would have two minutes, and then they would come. In those moments, pressed against the coldest bark of a poplar tree, I thought about how we arrived to this activity, when this was not actually our purpose in these woods. Instead we had planned to hunt squirrels.
Adventures don’t always arrive in large plans or grand pursuits. For me and my two-boys, adventuring can have very small and minimal roots that eventually blossom into a growth ring that becomes part of our life. While we take aim to hunt squirrels, sometimes our aim misses the mark and instead we find a better pursuit.
Such was the case this day. With enough snow on the ground and a proper amount of cold, we started our hunt by following a familiar road-bed through the woods. Our eyes were trained for the trees and the sky and the places that a wild squirrel may live.
We looked at the branches and the bases of trees and we looked for signs of scurrying critters. Yet, what we really found were tracks in the snow and these tracks were part of conversations. We noticed that a rabbit had coursed from a warm tree stump to where the briars were thick, creating a trail of sorts. We noticed that a fox had traveled this path, too and that it was probably familiar with the path of a rabbit, sans the snow. And we found where there were deer tracks and coyote tracks, and we noted that for every deer track there were two coyote tracks and it was reaffirmation that maybe the coyotes do more damage than what we think.
We followed this road and we walked this hill and we sat, spread out from each other, and we watched these woods and this landscape and this very blue sky from this very cold ground. And we were quiet for some time.
I watched my youngest, and I remembered a few years ago when he took his first squirrel from this landscape and that he leapt over a log in excitement and that even today, that which seemed so long ago seems relevantly recent. I watched my oldest boy and I saw his face and that he was still and that he studied the trees and that at the age of 14, he is growing and that he hunts alone mostly, and that it was good to be by his side, knowing he used to hunt from my lap, only a decade ago.
After some time, we walked again and with no squirrels and only the cold and the evidence of tracks in the snow, our hunt was nearly over, or so I thought.
We were talking about past hunts and past moments like how the last time we were in these woods, we had abandoned our hunt and played a wilderness version of hide and seek. Almost as soon as that past moment was mentioned, unexpectedly, my teenage-boy suggested, that we play again.
We stowed our guns and our packs and as soon as they started counting, I turned and ran.
Knowing that each track in the snow was evidence of my route, I made circles around trees and jumped off-track, before settling within this cluster of trees and hiding. As I suspected, they followed my tracks. And I had fun watching them trace my tracks before figuring that I was leading them, in circles.
From a distance, I watched them work together and study the landscape. It was a moment that gave me vision.
Down the hill they came, and I saw glimpses of childhood in them, and perhaps me. Down the hill they came, and I saw two boys who once needed my hand to walk over the logs, stepping over them and jumping when they were happy. Down the hill they came, and I could hear them giggling and laughing and, at 11 and 14, these boys were acting like young kids. And, down the hill they came, and when the youngest saw me, there was a happiness and a joy and I saw the faces of two boys, alive and bright and it was goodness for this soul.
These moments, I have learned are unexpected, and certainly I did not expect to be hiding and them to be seeking. Yet, this is the outdoors and we live here and the outdoors lives within us and even though we pursued small game, what we found and continue to find is an audaciously, though sometimes unexpected, big life.
Enjoy your time outdoors.
You can reach Jason Hawkins at firstname.lastname@example.org